First town hall focuses on plans to maintain stability during consolidation

USF System President Judy Genshaft began the town hall with a short statement that stressed her belief that no USF campus would lapse in accreditation throughout the consolidation process. ORACLE PHOTO/JESSE STOKES

The USF Consolidation Task Force held a town hall Wednesday to address concerns over the anticipated consolidation of all three USF campuses — Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota. Major conversations revolved around changes in curriculum, the lack of faculty members involved, and the overall concern for student success.

While a crowd of roughly 115 staff, students, faculty and community members assembled in seats or stood along the walls of the room, USF System President Judy Genshaft began with a statement on the purpose of the meeting in terms of having students’ and faculties’ thoughts heard, keeping them up-to-date on future plans.

After mentioning and celebrating USF’s recent preeminence status, Genshaft also made several things clear before ending her speech.

“Our highest priority remains the success of our students,” Genshaft said. “And in no time will any USF campus lapse in accreditation. None.”

Jonathan Ellen, the chair of the Task Force, later began to outline why it was created and the purpose it’s meant to serve.

“It was passed and it was signed by Governor (Rick) Scott that we would consolidate and accreditdate the three campuses with the hope that it will benefit faculty, students, staff and community,” Ellen said. “They requested that we’d put together a Task Force that will look at particular issues, so that we can be the most effective on achieving our goals.”

When it came time to let the public voice their thoughts, Ellen began to call out names from small paper slips that speakers needed to fill out beforehand. Each person who stood at the podium had three minutes to speak.

Several of the first speakers that voiced their concerns had more or less the same words to say regarding the possible effects of the consolidation.

Robert Frisina, interim chair and professor of the department of Medical Engineering, said he hopes that wise funding decisions are made with the expected consolidation.

“Let’s not forget how we got here,” Frisina said. “My recommendation today is that we must maintain our focus on our strategic plan.”

Robert Bishop, the dean of the College of Engineering, also added to this by saying that the College of Engineering is a “growing powerhouse” that shouldn’t be stopped.

With all three campuses joining together as one, other main topics that were stressed throughout the meeting was the loss of autonomy, the fear of changing standards and the desire for new materials for their students.

“‘Can we augment the strategic plan?,” Bishop said. “Yes, but we must understand that this is going to require significant resources.”

Panel members listened attentively as department faculty voiced the desire for the Task Force to lean on the experience of those who have for years worked in their academic areas.

Richard Manning, a philosophy professor, focused on the idea of having faculty members involved in decision-making. Manning also discussed his disappointment when he didn’t see any educators seated on the Task Force.

“Where are all the administrators, and the people involved in direct education? Where all the faculty members?,” Manning asked. “I will implore you on every state when it comes to making decisions that affect the lives of on the ground faculty, that you consult them because they will have insights that you people do not.”

Although some seemed to murmur in agreement, the overall audience was caught off-guard by Manning’s ending note.

Following the public comments of those who participated, Task Force members addressed the main concerns presented and said they would work toward including the expertise of administration in their planning.

As the meeting came to end, Task Force members began to speak about the effects of the designated preeminence on the overall admission process.

Michael Griffin, another member of the Task Force, said the committee will do its best to not lose the best and the brightest students who choose USF as a school of their choice.

“The challenge that we’ve recognized from the beginning is that the preeminence designation requires certain graduation rates and that concept also raises the bar for admitting GPA’s and SAT’s,” Griffin said. “These kind of requirements affect the inclusivity of the organization, but I think the university has demonstrated that they can rise to it.”